Inside the office, the boxes were piled high and efficient hands moved from one to the next, slapping on labels. By the end of the day, all the boxes, the posters, the half-empty tins of almonds and the last few soda cans had to be gone. At least, that is, in theory. In reality, it isn't that easy to clear out a congressional office after 10 years.

"I can't be bothered with packing," said Martha DiSario, press secretary to Rep. Jerry Patterson (D-Calif.), who was defeated for reelection last month by Republican Robert Dornan. "You have to thank a million people, do a final newsletter."

So DiSario rushed from phone to office to phone, arranging things, trying to retrieve the piano stuck in a freight elevator before the farewell party. Patterson settled slowly into a large chair surrounded by boxes and, while staff members opened the wine for the party down the hall, he described how it all felt.

"It hits you every time something happens," he said. "When your voting card doesn't work any more, it hits you. The first week or so you go through a mourning period. It's like a death in the family. You just drop out. You don't return your phone calls. Then, you realize, 'Gee, I have to close the office.' "

In fact, Patterson said, the whole thing was so much like the aftermath of a death, he read Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' "On Death and Dying," and found her analysis of the progress of mourning to be an almost exact description of what he and other defeated politicians were going through.

"The first stage is disbelief or denial," he said. "You just don't believe it could happen to you. Then you go through a stage when you're angry -- at yourself, maybe other people, the voters who didn't return you, and mostly at the person who defeated you. Then comes bargaining. You think, 'If only Ronald Reagan wasn't on the ballot,' or 'If only he hadn't had Richard Viguerie and his mass-mailing operation out in Falls Church, I would have won.'

"The fourth stage is depression. You cross the street to avoid talking to someone coming your way. You don't return your phone calls because you don't want to be hurt again. The last stage, the fifth stage, is acceptance."

Patterson accepted an offer Wednesday night from a law firm with offices here and in California.

"Acceptance was helped along a lot in my case," he said. "I find now I may wind up doubling my salary. While income isn't everything, it's a help. It makes you feel you're in demand.

"In a year, if things look promising -- if the Democrats are able to pull it together in Orange County and if '86 looks like a good year for Democrats, if his constituents seem put off by Dornan's conservatism, then I can make a go of it."

That's what is known as political "acceptance," and when you reach that point, you have the party. But, even with the wine, a party at noon -- with the deadline for leaving the office approaching -- might be a little less than festive, so Patterson's office invited the singing group Capitol Steps, which specializes in political satire, to perform.

California was a popular subject in lyrics like "All the flaky people/Where do they all come from?" sung to the tune of "Eleanor Rigby." Patterson and his assistant for defense legislation joined the group for a chorus of "Immense Expense Is Mainly in Defense," to the tune of "The Rain in Spain."

And then, in deference to the season, the Steps sang a new Republican version of "Adeste Fidelis" with the quasi-Latin lyrics conveniently written out on a sign board.

Arreste Nudilis,

Bi Tedemo Cratis,

Veni, Vedi, Vici, Vacintan,

No Bene Fitum,

Ex Septum Trulinidium,

De crisium de spendum,

De crisium de taxum,

In crisium de fensum,


(You have to say it out loud. It sounds like: Arrest New Dealers, Beat Democrats . . . No Benefits Except Truly Needy. . .)

Patterson said he loved it.